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3 Tips for Consumer Engagement this Fair Season

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Summer is upon us and while I was growing up, that only meant one thing: county fair season is here! Once school was out in early June, I spent each summer morning and afternoon in the barn with my family doing chores and preparing for the county fair. This included many hours spent washing my livestock, walking them around a practice show ring, watching the news and reading the paper to learn about what was happening in the industry and organizing my tack to get ready for the fair.

In addition to showing my livestock, some of the most memorable moments were spent hanging out with my friends in the barn. Every once in a while, though, somebody would pass through the barns and make a comment about how farmers do not care for their animals or another hurtful claim. Whether these individuals were uninformed consumers or animal activists trying to disrupt the fair, it was important to know how to respond. Recently, animal extremists have been targeting agriculture fairs as a way to protest animal agriculture, so I want to take this opportunity to share some suggestions for handling these types of situations.

1 – Communicate Respectfully
I’m sure that those of us who grew up showing livestock can recall a handful of conversations with consumers walking through the barn. Some of those conversations were comical – like the time a woman declared that my friend’s goats were ‘adorable!’ when in fact, she was looking at four sheep. Or when a man and his son asked if I was spraying chemicals on my pig when actually I was using a spray bottle filled with water to keep my pigs cool in the summer heat. While it is easy to laugh at these absurd questions and remarks, we should use them as chances to educate. Instead of responding with an eye roll, take the opportunity to engage with the fair-goer and share a positive story of how you care for your animals.

If animal extremists confront you, seek a fair manager or other designated spokesperson to help. Having a designated spokesperson to answer questions and share key messages with the activists will alleviate pressure on the youth exhibitors and the exhibitors will  also learn from the experience.

2 – Show You Care
Just as the old saying goes: they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Often those walking through the livestock barns are interested in learning more about animals and how they are raised. In order to be seen as a trustworthy source, show fair-goers you care by telling them how you care for your animals. It can be easy to complete your daily chore routine with nothing more than a glance in the fair-goers’ direction. Instead, chore time could be a great opportunity to explain what ingredients are in the feed that your animal eats, and how you prepare your animal for the fair.

3- Tell Them Why
NutrientsInMeatIt is no secret that livestock exhibitors often get asked, “Are you really going to eat that animal after the fair?!” or “Why do you show your animal?” Let fair-goers know that you were aware when you decided to participate in the livestock project that your animal would become an important part of the food supply. Meat is an important source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals that are not found in plant-based foods. Be sure to remind them that because of farmers, we have food, fuel and fiber that make our day-to-day lives possible.

For those that question why you participate in livestock shows, share with them what you have learned. For me, it was a tremendous amount of responsibility that came with raising animals and caring for them daily, often putting their needs before my own. I made lasting friendships with my fair friends who shared my values and passion for animal agriculture. Showing livestock also meant that I was able to contribute to the food chain by raising a nutritious product that would provide food for a family’s table. And more than anything, showing livestock allowed me to spend time with my family in a way that no other activity could.

So next time a family walks through the barn at your county fair, take the time to answer their questions and tell them about your project – engage with them and show them how you care for your animal. Always be sure to treat fair-goers with respect so they learn to understand, appreciate and respect our livelihood in the animal agriculture industry.

For more fair and exposition security and engagement tips, contact the Animal Agriculture Alliance at hthompson@animalagalliance.org or call 703-562-5160.


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How will you answer when someone asks – Why do youth show livestock? What is the point?

Shane Potter,  State 4-H Youth Development Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, shares his insights on how to engage about livestock showing at the fair.

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I was recently asked “Why do youth still raise livestock and show at the fair?” I love questions like this. They open the door to not only inform and educate but to also share the impact involvement in 4-H and livestock can have on the lives of youth. Here are the main steps I walk people through and teach my 4-Hers.

Start with a Personal Story – Leverage your Experience

I could tell you all kinds of amazing benefits gained, in general, when youth are involved in livestock projects. They gain grit and resiliency through the completion of difficult goals, creative problem solving and management skills through the process of caring for and showing animals, and are better prepared for college and careers because of the experiences and connections made in their 4-H clubs. This is all true and sounds great, but without the personal story it just doesn’t stick.

Instead I might tell you about myself, a young boy, who took part in the catch-a-lamb project. Not having sheep of his own, a local farmer provided the boy with an opportunity to raise, train, and then show a lamb at the county fair. (At this point you would see the twinkle in my eye as I think back to the pride I had in my catch-a-lamb project). The fact that someone else believed I could be successful and take care of and train a lamb was exactly what I needed to build confidence in my abilities.

As the story unfolds a picture should start to form in your mind. The triumphs and challenges the boy had in the project seem more tangible. You can understand how he gained problem solving skills when his lamb ate wood chips and bloated and he had to figure out what to do. The story attaches your main points to tangible anchors people can more easily remember.

Know Your Facts – Science is our Friend, Use It1280_0E6YI9l8MRFt

Not only are youth livestock producers and exhibitors gaining important Life and Soft skills, they are also mastering vast amounts of animal science knowledge. Through 4-H livestock projects youth become experts on animal care including things like nutritional needs of their livestock, facility needs and maintenance, and health care.

A personal story is excellent, but don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone asks you about docking a tail be ready to explain the how it helps reduce parasite infestation. I usually tell 4-Hers – This is your chance to shine and show a bit of what you have learned. It is also OK to not know everything. That is one of the great things about showing livestock, it is supposed to be a learning experience.

Model the Behavior You Describe in Your Story – Be Confident and Kind

Above all – regardless if you agree with the person you are talking to or how they are acting, be gracious and kind. Anyone who has ever worked with livestock knows they have a mind of their own and may not do what you want them to do. This is excellent training for keeping your cool when talking with someone who you may not agree with.

As a final thought, I again go back to my story about the boy and his lamb project. I remember how the project was just the spark needed to develop a passion and drive to improve and work hard to accomplish his goals. This is true for thousands of youth each year who raise and show livestock.